Father’s Day Weekend Getaway

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After many months of working on a business project, I was finally able to put the Traveling back into Traveling Troy. It was only for a few days and now I’m back in Houston, continuing with my project but what a rejuvenating and inspiring trip. I spent an extended weekend with my Dad and Step-Mom (Nancy) and saw first hand how a happy couple takes care of each other and values each and every day. That’s them below, more on what they have in their mouths later:

Dad & Nancy - Quacking me up!

Dad & Nancy – Quacking me up!

They invited me out for Father’s Day weekend and we decided to extend that weekend to Thursday – Monday to make travel easier and give us more time to spend together. My Dad & Nancy live north of Austin, Texas and we figured that if I could get to Austin, they could drop down into Austin and scoop me up.

Being a frugal traveler, my job was to figure out how to get to Austin on the cheap. I have a temp car I could drive but it has an issue which is costly to fix and I just don’t trust it for the drive to Austin. Plus, it eats gas like I eat oatmeal. Oh, I eat a lot of oatmeal in the mornings. 🙂 After some research, I found a bus service called MegaBus which is similar to Greyhound and travels direct from Houston to Austin, among other routes, but for much cheaper. My nephew, Trevor, took a trip to Austin on MegaBus recently so I checked with him and he gave it a thumbs up.

MegaBus

Double-Decker MegaBus – from megabus.com

The price for a trip on MegaBus fluctuates based on how long you reserve your trip in advance, if you schedule on a weekday vs. a weekend day and if you schedule within a few days before or after a holiday. I made my reservation on Wednesday for a departure the next day at 7:30am which didn’t give me much of a discount but it was still cheap since I scheduled to leave on a Thursday. The price to travel to Austin from Downtown Houston was $7.00 plus a small fee. If I would have scheduled it a few days earlier, it would have been only $5. Wow!!

The trip back to Houston on Monday, which I will get to later on in this post, only cost me $9.00 plus a small fee but wasn’t bad for the day after a MAJOR HOLIDAY – well at least my Dad and I consider it a major holiday (Father’s Day). 🙂

Thursday 6/12/14

As I arrived at the MegaBus terminal in downtown on Thursday morning, I saw a bus already there unloading a group from San Antonio. I was about 40 minutes early, so I just hung out and waited for my bus. It arrived at 7:15am and they began checking us in and loading our bags. The bus was a double-decker and since I had never been on one before, I went straight up to the top level. The seats were comfortable and there were AC power outlets, personal air vents, lights, armrests, Free WiFi and storage netting in the back of the seat in front of me for drink and snack storage.

Interior look at at megabus - via megabus.com

Interior look at megabus – via megabus.com

The ride to Austin went by fast. I listened to some music, podcasts and surfed the net as I gazed out the window at the passing traffic and landscape. Inside the bus, many passengers slept for the duration of the trip (sorry no funny sleeping photos – maybe next time). The guy in front of me slammed a 6 pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer during the trip. He cracked his first beer open at about 7:40am – good plan dude.

I found the trip to be very comfortable and roomy as it was only at about 50% capacity. I had a window seat and an empty seat next to me with plenty of room to stretch out. I tested the WiFi on my speed test app and was happy to see they had free WiFi but it was meant to be used for quick email checks and light browsing.

I arrived in Austin close to 11am. My Dad and Nancy were there waiting for me at the MegaBus pickup/drop-off location which was really just a small parking lot in between two buildings. Hey, they gotta cut costs to keep it cheap. No problem with me. I was impressed that at each location (Houston and Austin) they had a police officer and a baggage handler/check-in person on-site.

With the traveling part complete, we decided to head back to their subdivision so they could give me a tour of the surroundings. They live in an adult only retirement community north of Austin. The drive out of Austin wasn’t bad as we planned my arrival time to be a low traffic time. First we dropped off my bags and they showed me around their 2 bedroom/2 bath home. It was awesome, super clean and just right for a couple with the occasional guest, but based on their schedule, they are basically running a bed and breakfast. 🙂 Thinking back on my stay, I should have left a large tip on the pillow. They were great!!

Google street view of their house

Google street view of their house

After the tour of their home, we hopped back into their car for a tour of the neighborhood. Their subdivision has 3 golf courses with club houses, fitness centers, multiple pools (indoor & outdoor), a dog park, softball field, a woodworking shop, and outdoor activities like Bocce, Horseshoes, Washers and Cornhole. While driving around, Nancy was telling me about all the wildlife in the area and to keep my eyes open to spot them. By the end of my trip, I had spotted all the animals on her list and added a new one, but more on that later. 🙂

The area was beautiful and after the tour we stopped off to play some bocce which I had never played before but was eager to learn. I think my first question was “How do you pronounce Bocce.” So, listen to the short video below (12 seconds) for the correct pronunciation w/an accent:

After learning the basic rules, I determined that the game is much like the game of Curling from the Winter Olympics but with a moving target as opposed to a stationary target. My Dad and I played and he ended up crushing me but in my defense I was really trying some whacky shots. I believe it was 13 to 5. Unfortunately, we didn’t play again during the trip but there was just so much to do that we didn’t make it back to the Bocce court. Their community normally plays in the mornings when it is cool and I imagine the tournaments and social events are fun.

Below is an example of a Bocce Social:

Next, we hopped over to the Horseshoe courts where I was able to get a win vs my Dad and Nancy. We only played to 5 points but hey a win is a win. These courts are all together in the same area so it made it easy to switch from game to game. Next up was washers where Nancy took us both down. My Dad was scoreless for a while but finally got on the boards but Nancy pulled out the win. Go Nancy!!

One of many things I liked about their community was how active they are for a 55+ group. In just the first day, I saw members of the community in the fitness center (jogging, swimming & lifting weights), walking the neighborhood, playing golf, hiking the trails and generally wanting to be fit. Much more than I can say for many of the out of shape 9 to 5ers I see back in Houston. Really impressed with this community.

Well, that was a pretty busy day so we went back to their house for a snack, changed out of our sweaty clothes and relaxed for a while. Before we knew it, 5 o’clock had arrived and it was time for happy hour. My gracious hosts prepared cheese and crackers and offered an assortment of beverages of which I opted for a Mexican beer. We had a drink, relaxed, watched the news and then had dinner.

We capped off the first day by watching the Spurs beat the Heat in game 4 of the NBA Finals, then off to bed for me.

Friday 6/13/14

Day 2 – Nancy had an appointment in Temple, Texas so we loaded up into the car early and headed that way. We were done there pretty quickly so we headed back to the house and made plans for the rest of the day. Normally, my Dad and Nancy both go to the Fitness Center and get in a workout, but since I was in town my Dad and I planned a day of adventure and exploration while Nancy went to workout. Now, Nancy wanted to go with us badly but her movement has been restricted and her workouts have been helping her improve her movement so it was best for her not to miss her workout.

So, Nancy jumped into the golf cart and headed to her workout and my Dad and I took the car out to San Gabriel Park. My Dad heard there were some nice trails but he hadn’t made a trip over there yet, so off we went to check it out. We arrived and parked behind a Mexican restaurant and walked down a path to the main trail area. The trails were paved for both walking and bike riding. The park is fairly large and the longest trail is 5.5 miles (if memory serves me correctly). There is a fork in the river which breaks the park up into North and South. We started on the south part of the park – see below:

San Gabriel Park - South Fork

San Gabriel Park – South Fork

I asked my Dad if he was ready to jump off the cliff but he said something about the lack of a bathing suit and warning signs. Doh! Maybe next time. We are both afraid of heights and I actually almost broke my neck jumping from a stairway railing down into a swimming pool but that’s another story….

The path we were walking along came up on a dead end, so we reversed and doubled back to head the other direction. The forks in the river made it a little tricky to figure out our exact location and their posted park maps were lacking one important piece to the puzzle “YOU ARE HERE”. I felt like pulling out a pen and vandalizing the map with helpful dots showing the actual location on the map. We continued our walk along the south fork and eventually came to a bridge which we crossed to the main park area. I would say we were out walking between 11am and 12:30pm. We followed the North fork for a while, saw Catfish & More restaurant and then figured out that this route wouldn’t return us to where we started, so we backtracked and head up a hill to the road above. This shortcut got us back to the car so we could move on to our next adventure of the day. See the map below to get an idea of where we were:

Our exploration of the San Gabriel North fork

Our exploration of the San Gabriel North fork

Our next destination was Inner Space Caverns. When Nancy was originally asking me if I wanted to go there, I didn’t quite hear what she said and thought she said “Inner Space Taverns”, well I was game for hitting a tavern. Ha! Instead this was a large cavern under Hwy 35 in Texas just south of Georgetown, Texas and North of Round Rock, Texas. I would never have believed it was down there if I didn’t walk down into the cavern myself. Really cool place!

It was discovered in 1963 when the Texas Highway Department was drilling for core samples to determine if the area could support a highway above. After drilling through 40 feet of solid limestone their drill bit (made of diamonds) broke off and didn’t come back up when they pulled the bit out of the 6 inch wide hole. Since this diamond drill bit was very expensive, they figured it would be a good idea to drill a large hole and have someone go retrieve the drill bit. They made a 24″ wide hole, sent a man into the hole with a rope tied to him and he was lowered into one of the biggest rooms of the cavern and landed on a pile of petrified bat guano or as I like to call it “really old poop”. The man retrieved the diamond bit and 3 years later, it was open to the public.

This is the picture I took from inside the cavern of the original 24″ wide hole:

The first person to enter the cavern went through this 24 inch wide hole.

The first person to enter the cavern went through this 24 inch wide hole.

Here is a look at the map:

Inner Space Caverns Map

Inner Space Caverns Map – Click to Enlarge

There are three tours for this cave: Adventure tour ($20 Multiple tours), Hidden Passage Tour ($20 – 3 tours a day) and the Wild Cave Tour ($100 – 4 hours – crawling tour). We did the Adventure tour. See the picture below, the purple areas are entrances to small tunnels for the Wild Tour:

A look inside Inner Space Caverns - via innerspacecaverns.com

A look inside Inner Space Caverns – via innerspacecaverns.com

That afternoon, we met back up with Nancy at the house, relaxed for a while and before we knew it, 5 o’clock had rolled around. Time for some refreshments.

Earlier, I mentioned the wildlife in the area. Well, Nancy said we might see deer, rabbits, turkeys and other animals while out on our dusk golf cart ride. The cart was meant for two, but we squeezed in there and toured the area for 30-45 minutes and spotted a few deer. I was surprised at how close they would get to the cart. At one point, a deer walked up 10-15 feet away from us. We saw a group of 3 deer together along the cart path of the golf course. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a camera with us. Below is an example of a deer we saw multiple items in the same spot:

Golf Course Deer

Golf Course Deer

Along the way, I saw what I thought was a large cat run across the path about 40 yards ahead of us. Being adventure seekers 😉 we had to go investigate. As we got closer, we saw a gray fox (it was dark but it may have had some red as well – we debated that later). Note to self – Carry phone/camera EVERYWHERE. We stopped the golf cart and watched it for a few minutes. The fox just froze and stared back at us and barely moved, but it was no doubt a fox and I claimed the first spotting of a fox (at least in the company of my Dad and Nancy).

Back at the house, we watched a little TV then I was off to sleep after a long day of exploring.

Saturday 6/14/14

The planned highlight of my 3rd day was a tour through Austin on the Duck Bus. An amphibious tour of Sixth street, the Capitol, Governor’s Mansion and a dip into Lake Austin. The tour was about 75 minutes and started at the Austin visitors center. We arrived early and got a couple pictures next to the bus:

Dad & Nancy getting fired up for the Duck tour

Dad & Nancy getting fired up for the Duck tour

Then the Fathers got together for a quick photo:

Father/Son about to board the Duck Bus

Father/Son about to board the Duck Bus

Our Duck Bus driver was named Bob and he handed out duck quackers to us as we boarded the bus. He was a really fun guy and made the trip a blast. As we passed people along the way, he had us blow on the quacker whistles and even counted us down. We quacked at golfers on the course, groups of girls and even motorcycle riders. Here we are below sporting our Duck whistles:

Quackers Unite!

Quackers Unite!

The funniest part of the tour was when our bus driver Bob drove the bus into Lake Austin and declared his new title to be Captain Bob. Hilarious! The lake area was beautiful and the houses were awesome. Below is an example of one of the houses we saw on the lake:

Nice looking house on Lake Austin

Nice looking house on Lake Austin

After the tour, we had a nice lunch then took a little tour of our own around downtown Austin. From there, it was back to the house for a little rest. While Dad and Nancy took a nap, I ventured off to one of the hiking trails in their subdivision which ran along the creek. The nature trail started at the lake which was between holes 1 and 2 on the golf course. The path had a main trail with multiple spurs heading down to the creek and was approximately 3.5 miles round trip. Most of the trail was shaded by trees but there were a few parts where the sun was on me full burn.

Along the trail, I saw a few deer, a rabbit, a wild turkey and some nice views of the creek. Below is the first deer I saw. It stayed completely still until I started moving on in another direction:

The little guy didn't move a muscle

This little guy didn’t move a muscle

We like to call this next picture “Three Deer and a Turkey” :

3 Deer & a Turkey along nature trail

3 Deer & a Turkey along the nature trail

I returned back to the house by about 6pm and relaxed with a cold beverage and had dinner. The topic of Father’s Day came up which was the next day so I thought it was a great opportunity to pull out the gift I brought for my Dad. Now, a little back story, my Dad and Nancy spent around 18-20 years traveling in their sailboat and living in other countries so gifts were typically an email with Happy (insert event here), but with my Dad being in one spot, I found a gift earlier in the year and saved it for this day. I really thought I would be mailing it and actually had it prepackaged to mail but it worked out because I needed to make sure it survived the bus trip in my luggage.

So, what was the gift? I just realized I don’t have a picture of it. The gift wasn’t an expensive item but I knew my Dad enjoyed a cup of coffee and was just beginning to pick up golf as a hobby. I was out shopping when I saw this over-sized coffee mug with a tunnel cut out of the bottom center of the cup which was big enough for a golf ball to travel through. The cup said “Golf Putt Hole” in big letters and said “also could be used for coffee” in smaller letters. I thought it would be the perfect Father’s Day gift. This 5 day visit is the longest time I have spend with my Dad since my trip to visit him and Nancy in the Bahamas for 10 days probably 15 years ago.

We had some good talks, I heard some stories I had never heard before from both my Dad and Nancy’s youth, more sailing adventures, more about life in Panama and Mexico and the story of “The Rail”.

Sunday 6/15/14 – Father’s Day

We all slept in a little late, had a light breakfast and then prepared to get ready for a brunch we were going to later that morning. The brunch was a birthday party for one of Dad and Nancy’s friends. We ate, chatted, sung Happy Birthday and pulled out our Quackers from the Duck Bus to make the song special. 🙂 Nancy was going to a play with some of the brunch attendees so Dad and I went to drop off the car and grab the golf cart and headed over to the driving range. I hadn’t hit a golf ball in a few years but wanted to see how I would do.

My Dad has been working on his golf game and has even taken some lessons, so he was watching my swing and giving me some pointers to help me improve. I seemed to want to CRUSH the ball. There is so much to remember when you step up to the tee. Lining up your feet based on the shot, left arm straight, loose grip, slow back swing, don’t kill it, keep your head down. No wonder they have driving ranges. You can’t just walk out on a course with no practice and do all that stuff perfectly the first time. Wow!!

After the driving range, we had some time to kill, so we stopped off for a beer, watched some golf and soccer and had some good convo. Then we went back to the house, watched the end of the golf and relaxed. Nancy returned from the play and told us all about it, then we had dinner and the highlight of the night was watching the Spurs beat the Heat and win the 2014 NBA Championship. I went to sleep soon after that.

Monday 6/16/14

I woke up at 5am and decided to get all packed up so I wouldn’t have to worry about it later as I was catching a 12:30pm bus back to Houston. Well, I packed my bags and prepared for the return trip home. After everyone woke up, Dad and Nancy made healthy pancakes – Oatmeal, Cottage Cheese, Eggs, Cinnamon, Vanilla and some other ingredients. Sorry, I don’t want to post exact ingredients as it may be a family secret. Shhhhhhhh…..

After breakfast, we sat around and chatted until it was time for me to head out. Nancy was nice enough to pack me a lunch for the road and she wished me well as she was heading to the fitness center and Dad was driving me into Austin. We arrived at the drop off point with plenty of time to spare, but before we knew it, the bus appeared and they started boarding. Dad and I quickly said our goodbyes, I handed over my bags to the attendee, got on board and waited as they filled just about every seat on the bus. I was on the upper level again and a cute girl sat next to me. We talked a bit, but she slept for most of the trip.

The bus stopped in Katy to drop off some passengers and the girl next to me moved to another seat which allowed me to stretch out and get more comfortable for the final 40 minutes of the trip.

Great trip. Nice Father’s Day visit and an excellent stay with my Dad and Nancy.

Happy Father’s Day Dad!!!!

Love you guys,

Troy


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